Scared and alone, Dewon Brazelton tiptoed into the clubhouse of
the U.S. national baseball team last June, a nobody in a sea of
somebodies. Look, isn't that Georgia Tech slugger Mark Teixeira?
Over there--that's USC ace Mark Prior! That guy's from Stanford!
And he's from LSU! And he's from Miami! And I'm...I'm...
Where exactly was Dewon from? The question was answered as soon
as he found a locker in the Tucson training facility, unpacked
his gear, opened a copy of the national team's media guide and
found absolutely nothing about a righthanded starter from Middle
Tennessee. "I was thinking, Why did they even invite me to try
out?" says Brazelton.
On the brink of tears, he slammed down the booklet, rushed to a
pay phone, called one of his three mothers (keep reading) and
begged for an excuse to return to the peace and tranquility of
Tullahoma, Tenn. After an hourlong pep talk, Dianne Darlington
persuaded her oldest child (really, keep reading) to stick it out
and stick it to 'em. "The last thing I told Mom was this,"
recalls Dewon. "My name's not in here now, but I promise you, it
will be when I leave."
By the end of the summer Brazelton was the ace of Team USA's
star-studded staff, having gone 6-0 with 49 strikeouts in 41 1/3
innings and an 0.65 ERA, an alltime Team USA mark. The highlight
was a seven-inning, one-run domination of the Cuban national
team, whose lineup featured many of the players who beat up on
Olympic opponents. "The Cubans were trying to intimidate us,"
says Brazelton. "I didn't care. I wanted to intimidate them."
In the past eight months Brazelton has emerged as a bona fide
candidate to be chosen No. 1 in the major leagues' June amateur
draft. (The Minnesota Twins own the top pick.) No, he isn't as
sexy as Teixeira, the all-everything third baseman who seems to
have been hitting mammoth home runs for 20 years. Brazelton's
pinkie-thin legs and trip-over-himself gawkiness can't match
Prior's muscle-atop-muscle build. Still, if numbers (an 11-1
record and a 1.26 ERA for Middle Tennessee through Sunday,
including a 16-strikeout complete-game win over Western Kentucky
last Friday) and signability (Brazelton has repeatedly said all
he wants is a fair deal) mean anything, Brazelton is a good bet.
Then, there's his story.
Nearly 21 years ago Monalisa Brazelton was a high school senior,
7 1/2 months pregnant and scared, living in a housing project in
Tullahoma. On a Friday visit to her doctor, she was told she was
carrying twins. Three days later they arrived. Dewon--sprightly,
healthy and wide awake--was first. Fewon, quiet and pale, was
second. "He wasn't breathing, so they had to help him," Monalisa
says of Fewon. "He had trouble from the beginning."
Today, as then, the twins are identical by technical definition
only. One is a 6'4", 215-pound package of athleticism. The other
is a 6'4", 90-pound sufferer of cerebral palsy. One is a junior
in college, a phys-ed major with a 3.2 GPA. The other lives in a
nursing home and can't speak or control his limbs. "I've told
Dewon that he was given so much power and personality because it
was all made for two, not one," says Monalisa. "That's the only
explanation. He has always been a special child. A lot of that
comes from Fewon."
In Tullahoma (pop. 18,835), Dewon is a jolt of life. Mention of
his name produces instant smiles around town. "Dewon has a
beautiful way about him," says Darlington. "He has the biggest,
most unselfish heart."
Darlington knows. Her house is one of four places Dewon has
called home since 1993, the year Monalisa began a battle with
substance abuse. When Dewon was an eighth-grader, he would walk
around the neighborhood, smiling and joking, looking for a
driveway pickup basketball game or some Wiffle ball. After four
or five hours a parent of another child would drive Dewon home,
only to find no one there. "They'd notice my mom wasn't around,
and they'd say, 'Why don't you stay over?'" Dewon recalls.
"That's how it started."
In the ensuing years Dewon was all but adopted by his hometown.
There were the Tuggles and the Barnetts, the Robisons and the
Darlingtons. One day this gangly teenager with a thunderbolt arm
would be showing your kids a changeup. The next day he's eating
steak and peas with you, then sleeping on your foldout.
Dewon now has a permanent residence with Dianne and Scott
Darlington, who met him in 1995 at the Grace Baptist Church.
"Four years ago my husband and I gave Dewon a key to the house,"
says Dianne. "We said, 'Dewon, this is your home. You always have
a place to stay, and you don't have to call and ask.' He is, in
many ways, our third child." Hence, Dewon calls Dianne Mom. He
also calls Deby Barnett Mama and, of course, Monalisa, who has
overcome her drug addiction. Dianne's and Deby's husbands are his
dads; their children, his brothers and sisters.
Through it all Dewon has had sports. Monalisa remembers her boy
as a seven-year-old driving her nuts with the nonstop banging of
a tennis ball against the house. He dug holes in the grass to
make his own golf courses. He and his friends would play pretend
major league games in the backyard. Tall and gawky, Dewon had a
J.R. Richard-like smoothness about him. Because of his skinny
legs and knee-high uniform pants, high school teammates called
him Satch, after Satchel Paige.
By the time he was a sophomore at Tullahoma High, Dewon was the
starting quarterback and would have been the starting point guard
and No. 1 pitcher. That year, however, he tore the ACL in his
right knee in an early-season football game, made a remarkable
comeback in time for baseball, then blew out his right elbow and
had to undergo Tommy John surgery. That's why, despite a full
recovery, a high-80s fastball and a 1.75 ERA during his high
school career, Dewon went undrafted. He turned down a partial
scholarship offer from Tennessee to accept a full ride from
mid-major Middle Tennessee, whose Murfreesboro campus is only 35
miles from Tullahoma.
Last summer, after he had gone 7-3 with a 4.83 ERA as a
sophomore, Brazelton was invited to the U.S. national tryouts.
Ever since, he has been one of the nation's top collegiate
pitchers. In nine innings against Arkansas-Little Rock on April
13, he struck out 11 and allowed only three balls out of the
infield. In 10 innings against Louisiana-Lafayette, he
surrendered two hits while striking out 14. Scouts rave about
his two- and four-seam fastballs, but it is his
changeup--"Nasty, nasty, nasty," says Middle Tennessee reserve
catcher Dave VanWinkle--that really dazzles.
"When you see a college kid with three exceptional pitches, you
want him," says Jack Jolly, a Chicago White Sox scout. "When you
see a kid with this kind of character and integrity, well, it
makes you feel good about life. I've never heard a bad thing
about Dewon, and believe me, I've asked. If I were drafting
Number 1, I'd have to consider him. He's almost too good to be
COLOR PHOTO: PATRICK MURPHY-RACEY
"If you see a college kid with three exceptional pitches," Jolly
says of Brazelton, "you want him."